We leave Se Emira, travelling to Se Onirep, a small town in the southern rift valley. It’s dense rainforest here. The next day we go to Se Nadak, a massive capital in the monsoonal subtropics of the south. Unfortunately, it’s wet season, so it rains every day, and you get soaked every time you step foot outside.
Tonight we sit in our wooden lodge, listening to the steady drumming of the downpour outside. I tell you a story to keep your mind off the dreary weather.
* * * * *
Grayson stood on the platform surrounding the matchmaker’s office. This was his first appointment with her, and he was sweaty with nerves. With a shaky hand, he opened the door.
The front half of the building was a cozy waiting room with rugs, chairs, paintings, and plants. Grayson seated himself and waited for the matchmaker to invite him into her office. There were two doors across from him. One led to the office, and the other led to the sitting room where people met potential partners.
Most falarsi married around the age of twenty-six, but Grayson was so nervous about the whole process, he had waited. He was thirty-two now, and he was ready to face the terrifying custom called courtship. It was better than the alternative: living by himself for the rest of his life.
Grayson fidgeted with his hands. Would the matchmaker be able to find him a partner? Would someone want to be with him? Would he want to be with them?
The door on the left opened, and two women stepped into the waiting room. One was clearly younger, and she said, “Thank you,” as she departed.
“You must be Grayson,” the older woman said. She had dark skin and hair, and her eyes were nearly black. She wore a shimmering golden dress and was adorned with matching gold jewelry.
“I’m Bev. Come in.” She gestured to her office.
Grayson stood and wiped his sweaty palms on his pants, following Bev into the room. She sat in an armchair next to an end table made of polished wood. Grayson claimed the other chair, sinking into its upholstered depths.
“Can I get you anything to eat or drink?” Bev asked. Grayson shook his head. “Since this is your initial consult, I’m going to ask you questions to get to know more about you and what you’re looking for in a partner.” She grabbed a notepad and pen from the end table. “Why don’t you start by telling me about yourself? What do you do for a living? What are your interests?”
“I’m a glassworker,” Grayson said. “My specialty is blown glass, so I mostly make trinkets. I, um, enjoy going to the theater. I like hiking in the rainforest. I travel sometimes. I enjoy going down to the coast.”
“That’s a good start. What do you look for in a potential partner? What kinds of qualities do you find attractive?”
Grayson rubbed a hand across the back of his neck. “I-I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it.”
“How about we come back to that one? What are your values? What’s important to you?”
“Creativity. Respect. Patience. Nature. Like plant and animal life. Adventure, I guess.”
“Good. Are those things you want your partner to appreciate and embody?”
“Yeah, I’d say so.”
“Are you interested in a female or male partner? Or does it matter?”
Grayson looked down at his hands. “A-a male, please.”
“Does his appearance matter to you? Are there any physical traits you want me to look for?”
Did Grayson have a preference? He thought back to all his teenage crushes. Did they have anything in common? He couldn’t think of anything. He was feeling overwhelmed by Bev’s rapid questions.
“Are there any specific traits you’re looking for?”
“I can’t think of any. I’m sorry I’m not much help.”
“It’s alright. I have some potential matches in mind. We can try them. Once you meet and talk to a few men, you’ll start to notice what things you like and don’t like. Let me write down your schedule, and I’ll arrange some meetings for you. Does that sound good?”
“Yes, Ma’am, thank you.”
* * * * *
The next week, Bev invited Grayson to her office to meet his first match. This time he was brought into the sitting room where he was introduced to a burly man with arm muscles that would make any man jealous.
“This is Dawson,” Bev said, gesturing to the burly man. “And this is Grayson. I’ll leave you two to get acquainted.” Bev retreated to her office.
Grayson and Dawson stood there awkwardly for a moment. Dawson held out his hand, palm out and fingers splayed. Grayson placed his hand against Dawson’s in greeting, shattering the tension as though it were glass.
“First time?” Dawson asked. His voice was a high tenor that contrasted sharply with his large body.
“What?” Grayson said.
“Is this your first time meeting a potential match?”
Grayson rubbed his neck. “Yeah. Is it that obvious?”
Dawson shrugged. “I think most people are nervous the first time because they don’t know what to expect.”
“You sound like you have some experience.”
“Yeah. I’ve been doing this for two years.”
Grayson coughed. “That long?”
“Two years is nothing. Some people take a decade or longer. You look a little old to be a first-timer.”
Dawson whistled. “I’m twenty-eight, and I thought I started late. You enjoy the single life, huh? But now you’re ready to settle down?”
“Um, yeah, something like that.”
“That’s cool. I wish I had the guts to stay single that long. It’s funny, ya know, ‘cause I’m a lumberjack, so I spend a lot of time alone. Maybe that’s why I wanted to find love at a young age. I crave company, someone to come home to. How ‘bout you? What do you do for a living?”
“I’m a glassworker.”
“You one of those window guys or one of the artsy, blown glass and wind chime guys?”
“Blown glass is my favorite.”
“That must take some skill. And steady hands.” Dawson shook his head. “I’d break that stuff as soon as I touched it. Too damn delicate for a lumberjack.”
“Yeah.” Grayson looked around at the chairs and food-laden table. “So, um, what exactly do we do now? Like in this room without Bev?”
“We have an hour to talk and get to know each other. See if we’re at all compatible. If there’s any spark of affection. But if things really aren’t vibing with you, we can always end early. Bev won’t mind.”
“Oh, okay.” Grayson didn’t want to end that quickly. He sat down in one of the upholstered chairs, and Dawson followed suit. Grayson wasn’t sure how his torso fit between the chair’s arms. “Um, what do you like to do outside of work?”
Dawson liked spending time outside. He lived on his brother’s ranch, and he enjoyed being around the animals. He unsurprisingly liked exploring the woods.
When the hour was up, Bev had Dawson come into her office, and they spoke for a while. Once Dawson left, she had Grayson come in.
“What do you think of him?” she asked.
“He seems like a nice, hard-working guy.”
“Do you think you could be happy in a relationship with him? We could set up a second meeting if you’re not sure.”
Grayson thought for a moment. While he really did think Dawson was a nice man, he wasn’t sure they’d be good in a relationship together. There was no spark of affection between them. He wasn’t attracted to him. He could see them being friends, but not husbands.
“I’d like to meet other people.”
“Very well. I’ll set up another meeting for you. What was it that didn’t work for you? Can you pinpoint it?”
“I want someone a little less strong and…rustic, I guess?”
“Okay, great. I’ll add that to my notes and pick the next match accordingly.”
* * * * *
Over the next several months, Grayson met man after man after man. Some of them warranted second or even third meetings, but none of them felt right. There was always something that made him feel like the match wouldn’t last long-term.
The teacher felt too clingy. The soldier never stopped talking; Grayson could never get a word in. The bartender made him feel uneasy. The printer had been trying to find a match for fifteen years and said negative things about all of the previous guys he had met. The sculptor somehow managed to stare at him without blinking for ten minutes. Those were the matches that never made it past the first meeting.
The composer was nice, but he hated being outside. The farmer was sweet, but he lived in the next town over, and neither one of them wanted to move. Grayson met with an architect three times, but something just felt off about him. Grayson still wasn’t sure what it was. There were many others that didn’t warrant any further thought.
He was looking for attraction and chemistry, and so far he hadn’t found either. He had felt those things before when he fell for various men over the years, but those feelings had never gone anywhere. Most went unreciprocated. A couple had strong chemistry, but the relationships hadn’t worked out. Since Grayson hadn’t been successful on his own, he was really hoping Bev would help. But after six months, he was losing hope. Maybe he would be single forever.
* * * * *
Today Grayson was back at Bev’s office for a meeting. He stepped into the sitting room to meet his next match.
Standing next to Bev was a short, yet portly man in well-tailored clothes made of expensive fabrics. He had dark hair and a thin mustache. His eyes were a bright hazel with a mischievous twinkle in them.
Bev introduced them—the man’s name was Harvey—before leaving the room.
The two men touched hands in greeting. Grayson’s stomach did a little lurch. It hadn’t done that with any of the other possible matches. What was different about Harvey? Maybe the fact that he was so damn attractive? Grayson couldn’t stop admiring his good looks.
“Should we sit?” Harvey asked, gesturing to the chairs. His voice was a rich baritone.
“Um, yeah.” They sat. Grayson wanted to ask Harvey questions, but he couldn’t bring himself to speak. He was utterly tongue-tied in the presence of this man.
“Are you shy?” Harvey asked. “You look like the quiet type.”
“I…yeah. I’m fine around friends and family, but I get a little…flustered when I meet new people.”
Harvey leaned back in his chair, resting his left ankle on his right knee. He looked so at ease here. “I’m a people person myself. But there’s nothing wrong with quiet folks. I’ve always thought their silence conceals an active mind. Are you a creative?”
“Yeah. I make blown glass.”
“Ah, that’s fascinating. I love stained glass myself. My shop has lots of stained glass windows in it. Custom made.”
“What do you sell in your shop?”
“Textiles. I’m one of the main suppliers for tailors and seamstresses. I have a mill on the outskirts of town where the fabrics are manufactured and dyed.” Harvey’s eyes wandered up and down Grayson’s body, and Grayson flushed. “You would look good in shilavin blue. It would complement your skin tone.”
“I don’t know what shilavin blue is.”
“No? You should come by my shop sometime. I’ll show you.” He pulled out a business card and handed it to Grayson. Grayson tucked it into his shirt pocket. “Do you enjoy theater?”
“Concerts and plays are nice, but operas are my favorite. There’s a performance of my favorite tomorrow night. Would you be interested in going with me?”
Grayson and Harvey talked for the entire hour. When Bev came to retrieve Harvey, Grayson was surprised their time was up. Talking was just so much easier with Harvey than the others.
When it was Grayson’s turn to speak with Bev, she asked him what he thought of Harvey. “He invited me to an opera tomorrow night,” he said.
“Did you agree?”
Bev smiled. “I know that look in your eyes. You like him.”
“It’s okay. You can tell me all about it. I’m your matchmaker. It’s my job to know what you’re thinking.”
So Grayson told her. He told her how attractive he found Harvey. He told her how he loved listening to his voice. He told her how he wanted to go to his shop and find out what shilavin blue was. Bev smiled and nodded while she listened, occasionally jotting notes in his file.
“It sounds like the two of you hit it off. I hope your date goes well tomorrow.”
* * * * *
The next evening, Grayson stood before the mirror in his room, checking his outfit. He was wearing black pants and a loose blue shirt. The shade was dark like a twilight sky. He wasn’t sure if that was anything close to shilavin blue or not.
Once he was satisfied with his outfit, he spent a solid hour messing with his hair. It was a medium brown, which was light for a Lekra native, though it had natural dark highlights. He ran a comb through it over and over again, trying to get it to be less messy. Why wouldn’t it cooperate? His hair wasn’t even that long.
He glanced at the clock on his dresser. The opera would be starting soon. He would have to go with his hair as is. He hoped it looked okay.
As he walked to the theater, his palms became sticky with sweat despite his repeated attempts to wipe them on his pants. At this rate, he would soak his clothes before he even got there. He needed to stop being so nervous. No, nervous wasn’t the right word. Nervous was how he felt around other potential suitors. Around Harvey he was aflutter.
The fluttering affected his stomach, too, and he was glad he had eaten a small, bland meal that evening. The last thing he needed to do was vomit during the performance.
When he reached the theater, Grayson looked for Harvey. He wasn’t hard to find. Grayson felt like he was being pulled in Harvey’s direction by some invisible force. Harvey was wearing a dark purple shirt and a top hat.
“Grayson, my good fellow, you look dashing tonight. I already purchased our tickets. I got us one of the boxes.”
Grayson had never watched a performance from a box before. He followed Harvey to their seats, which provided an excellent view of the stage.
“Have you seen this opera before?” Harvey asked Grayson.
“I think so. It’s been a long time, though.”
The orchestra played the opening song, and the performers came onto the stage. Grayson tried to focus on the performance, but all he could think about was Harvey. The chemistry between the two of them was so strong it felt solid. The air was so thick, Grayson found it hard to breathe, and his heart was dancing in his chest.
Why did Harvey make him feel like this? Did Harvey feel it too?
As if in response, Harvey reached out and placed his hand on Grayson’s. Grayson’s stomach lurched again, but he took a steadying breath. Harvey caught his eye, and Grayson smiled. Harvey smiled back, and it was like light reflecting off colored glass.
When the curtains closed, Harvey and Grayson made their way back to the entrance still joined at the hands. Harvey drew Grayson off to the side. “Did you enjoy tonight’s performance?” he asked.
Grayson hadn’t paid much attention to the opera. He was too distracted by Harvey. “I did.”
“I’m glad. Will we be seeing each other again?”
Harvey smiled, and they bid each other goodnight.
* * * * *
Grayson and Harvey met at Bev’s office several more times to talk. While Bev offered to help them plan outings, they found they didn’t require her assistance. Harvey was always coming up with ideas, and sometimes Grayson had ideas that turned out well too.
The two of them spent a lot of time at the theater, but they also went on walks around town and wandered into various shops in the market. Grayson showed Harvey some of his glass pieces when he recognized them in shops. He sold his work to several merchants in town.
After three weeks of courting, Grayson remembered Harvey’s business card. They spent so much time together doing other things, he had forgotten about it. He still didn’t know what shilavin blue was. Maybe it was time to find out.
Grayson was far less aflutter around Harvey now. His palms stopped sweating, and his stomach didn’t lurch with excitement anymore. However, he still felt as though he were tipsy while in Harvey’s presence. Romantic chemistry was just as intoxicating as alcohol. But now he felt comfortable approaching Harvey outside of a planned outing.
Grayson stood on the platform outside Harvey’s shop. The stained glass windows were impossible to miss. When he opened the door, he was bombarded by a plethora of fabrics in bold prints and colors. They were organized by color, so the shop looked like a rainbow. Reds and oranges were on the left. Yellows and greens were in the center. Blues and purples were on the right.
Harvey was perched on a ladder and stuffing rolls of green fabric into cubbies built into the wall. “I’ll be right with you,” he said. “Is there anything in particular you’re looking for?”
“I want to know what shilavin blue looks like.”
Harvey swayed, nearly toppling off the ladder. He grabbed the edge of a cubby to steady himself. “Grayson?”
Harvey dropped the remaining fabrics on the floor and climbed down the ladder. He glanced at a clock on the counter. “I think I’ll close a little early today,” he said as he flipped a sign on the door. “Let me show you shilavin blue.”
Grayson followed him to the right side of the shop, navigating between numerous racks and shelves overflowing with fabrics. Harvey stopped in front of a roll of glossy cloth. It was a deep turquoise blue like Grayson had seen on the coast. It was definitely not the twilight blue he had worn to their first date. Harvey slid the roll off its rack and held it in front of Grayson.
“I knew it would complement your skin tone,” he said. “Let’s find a mirror.” Grayson followed Harvey to the back of the store where crates of fabric were precariously stacked. A tall mirror hung on one of the doors. Harvey held up the fabric again, so Grayson could see. Harvey was right: it did look good on him.
“What if we added some trim,” Grayson asked, “like a deep gold?”
Harvey’s eyes lit up. “Here.” He handed the roll to Grayson and left. He returned a moment later with a dark gold cloth, which he held next to the blue. “Like this?”
Harvey’s hand brushed Grayson’s shoulder. Grayson met his gaze in the mirror, then turned and faced him. That invisible something was tugging him closer to Harvey again. They dropped their rolls of fabric, leaned in close to each other, and kissed.
The chemistry between them was stronger than ever, as though it were a solid force binding them together. Grayson wasn’t sure how long he and Harvey made-out in the back of the shop, but he wished it didn’t have to end.
* * * * *
After Grayson’s visit to Harvey’s shop, the two of them agreed to move onto the next stage of courtship. Now their meetings at Bev’s office included her. She asked them questions about their expectations moving forward and how they pictured themselves living together. She had them talk through various scenarios that could come up in their lives to see how they handled conflict.
After completing their counselling with Bev, Grayson and Harvey were given her blessing to get engaged.
* * * * *
Grayson and Harvey were sitting on the floor in the back room of Harvey’s shop. Sketches of various outfits were scattered across the wooden planks. They were selecting their wedding attire.
“What about this one?” Harvey asked, pointing to a golden shirt and black pants.
“For me or you?” Grayson asked.
“It looks more your style. I think you’d look good in it.” Grayson pointed to a blue shirt and black pants. “I know yellow’s the standard color for weddings, but this blue would match the gold well.”
“That’s shilavin blue.”
“I like it. We’ll order those two from the tailor then.”
* * * * *
One evening, Grayson and Harvey were at Harvey’s house finalizing the plans for their upcoming wedding.
“Hmm?” He looked up from the list of songs they wanted the orchestra to play.
“I don’t know how to dance.”
“That’s easy to fix. Come here. I’ll show you.” Harvey stood, and Grayson joined him. Harvey took Grayson’s hand and touched his waist. Then he counted off beats. “One, two, three. One, two, three.” As he did so, he moved his feet, guiding Grayson. Grayson was slow to react at first and kept stepping on Harvey’s feet, but Harvey was patient, and Grayson quickly got the hang of it. “See? Easy.”
Grayson smiled. Everything was easy with Harvey.
* * * * *
Grayson and Harvey stood across from each other. Bev was next to them, reading out their vows. Behind them were their friends and family, here to witness their commitment to each other in everlasting matrimony.
Grayson wore the shilavin blue outfit they had picked out, and Harvey wore the gold one. Grayson had expected to be nervous—this was a huge commitment—but he wasn’t. He was ready to be Harvey’s husband.
Once they said their vows, it was time to dance. It was tradition for the newlyweds to start, so Harvey and Grayson stepped into the center of the clearing, and the orchestra played a song from Harvey’s favorite opera.
Grayson was happy in Harvey’s arms, and he knew he’d be spending a lot of time there in the coming days. Grayson loved his husband, and now he understood why people courted. While romance could be terrifying, the feeling he had with Harvey was magical. Magic that would keep them together for a lifetime.